The two-week cinematic sensation known as the Milwaukee Film Festival is sadly coming to a close Thursday night. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't interesting and entertaining movies left to see.
Of course, everybody knows about "The Sessions," the hit indie that's closing out the festival, but here are five other films worth checking out before the festival rolls its end credits.
In a festival full of documentaries about humanity doing wrong to one another, "The Jeffrey Dahmer Files" might be the most stomach-turning. Much of that is obviously due to the subject matter – the notorious Milwaukee serial killer and cannibal that became a national spectacle. Chris James Thompson doesn't spare many of the gruesome details, but that doesn't take from the chilling look into the Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee, as well as those who became close to him.
Thompson's documentary does use a lot of re-enactments that are well-made and look period accurate (minus a glaringly modern Miller Lite logo in the background of one scene), but don't add much to the story. They may be attempts to humanize Dahmer or show the mundanity of evil, but they just come off very one-note creepy. Luckily, the interviews, especially with lead detective Pat Kennedy, who finds himself uncomfortably bonding with the mentally unstable young man, are riveting. In the end, it's a suitably unnerving documentary about an equally unnerving topic.
Before you step into the theater to see "Klown," make sure you leave any shred of decency outside the auditorium's doors. The unapologetically improper Danish comedy has gained a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, and Warner Bros. is already planning a remake with Todd Phillips ("The Hangover") possibly set to direct.
Before America gets its grubby hands on the ribald buddy comedy, though, take a chance on the original. Its story – about a man trying to prove to his pregnant girlfriend that he's father material by taking a young boy on a canoeing trip to a bordello – takes a while to get the big laughs going. Once the film's jokes start tying together in the second half, though, it becomes a great exercise in lewd, should-I-be-laughing-at-this-oh-why-not hilarity. Plus, star Frank Hvam is just dopily sweet enough to make the coarseness go down smoothly. Just don't bring the parents, kids or anyone with a sense of morality.
"Sacrifice" may not have the enormous vistas and epically beautiful images that some of Asia's most popular imports ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero") have showcased over the years. Despite that fact, director Kaige Chen's film – a part of the festival's Passport: China series – still feels massive due to one big reason: the emotions.
The story, involving murdered families, baby-switching and obsessive quests for revenge, seems pretty melodramatic, but that's just because its emotions are so big and engulfing. It may be easy to push it aside as histrionic historical mayhem in the beginning (the convoluted "Game of Thrones"-esque web of characters off the bat doesn't help the immersion), but by the time "Sacrifice" reaches the final battle, it's hard not to get wrapped up in its characters' big emotional drama and even bigger emotional wounds.
Director Brad Lichtenstein's documentary about the state of Janesville and politics in the state of Wisconsin built some impressive viral hype when its trailer revealed Scott Walker's now infamous "Divide and Conquer" conversation. It was a mixed blessing; yes, it brought the film buzz, but it also created a notion that the film was an attack on Walker or a strongly partisan feature.
In reality, "As Goes Janesville" is anything but. The earnest and humanizing documentary is not an attack, but instead a startling glimpse into politics in Wisconsin and the polarized state of political dialogue. Lichtenstein finds some terrific subjects to follow, ranging from a business leader who just wants to build the Janesville community to where it could be, to Democratic Senator Tim Cullen, to a trio of workers caught in the middle of the political and economic moves.
With its large collection of characters, "As Goes Janesville" does lose a bit of focus. It could've perhaps cut one of the workers' storylines without losing much impact. However, as a sympathetic portrait of a disgruntled society on the edge, a look into the chilling spectacle that has become politics and a discussion spark plug, Lichtenstein's film hits home.
True confessions: I saw "17 Girls" on the first Sunday night of the festival. That's right; I skipped watching football in order to watch a French drama based on a true story about 17 teenage girls who make a pregnancy pact. If that's not a violation of some kind of man law, I don't know what is. What I do know, however, is that when I walked out of sibling writer/directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin's film, I was totally satisfied with my decision.
The plot provides a topic that would've been easy for the filmmakers to use for some moralizing on what's wrong with this generation. Instead, the Coulin sisters ask why some girls would choose such radical behavior. These girls aren't just doing this for conceited reasons; they're attempting to cope with the loneliness of such life-altering situations. Scattered throughout the film are quiet shots of young women sitting alone, worried. The audience knows their plan will inevitably fall apart, but there's also a sense that they're at least trying to do something. What results is a captivating, complex, wonderfully acted movie that currently stands as one of the year's best.
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